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Market Access and Forest Stewardship:   How Sustainability Certification and Renewable Biomass Mandates Threaten Nonindustrial Private Forests

 

Woody biomass comes from trees and woody plants, and includes “limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment, that are the by-products of forest management.”60 These forest by-products can be used as feedstock for biofuel producers and, because they generally have no other economic use, they tend to compliment rather than compete with conventional timber harvesting.61

 

Advocates of woody biomass as a substitute for fossil fuels point to its abundance and to the reduced wildfire risk associated with removing this excess biomass from healthy forests. Indeed, forestlands in the contiguous states are capable of producing 368 million dry tons annually.62 Such production is considered sustainable because, according to 2007 data, domestic forest growth exceeded removal by 41 percent across all species.63 As such, removing the excess biomass from the nation’s forests would likely improve their ecological function64

 

Narrow Definition, Broad Consequences 

In relevant part, the EISA defines renewable biomass as “[p]lanted trees and tree residue from actively managed tree plantations on non-federal land cleared at any time prior to enactment of this sentence.”65 Renewable biomass from federal public forests and naturally regenerating private forests thus does not qualify as a renewable feedstock regardless of how it was grown or harvested. This arbitrary exclusion creates an indirect subsidy for industrial forest owners and reduces the competitiveness of the biofuels market.

 

Excluding the nation’s dominant forest ownership categories from the biofuels market will have several consequences. First, the exclusion will increase the price per ton of woody biomass because fewer suppliers will be competing against each other in the marketplace. Indeed, the limitation of renewable biomass to “planted trees” excludes up to 88 percent of private forestland in the South East.66 Outside the South East, where forest plantations are less common, the percentage of private forest owners excluded is likely to be even higher.

 

Secondly, the narrow definition of “renewable biomass” will concentrate the benefits of thinning and hazardous fuels reduction on industrial private forests. To the extent these forests consist of monoculture, even-aged stands are less likely than federal or nonindustrial private forests to produce as

 

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